Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Old switch-a-roo

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.


Many years ago, the CBC broadcasted an Edmonton Opera performance of the Marriage of Figaro sung in English.

Pause

That what I thought, exactly!

I won’t call it a cottage industry, but there are many operas that have had their libretti adapted or translated in other languages. Some of them by design – Dialogues des Carmélites was first performed in an Italian translation at its La Scala première before its Paris debut in the original French libretto by the composer.

In my record collection I have a fine version of Pagliacci sung in German (A Munich performance conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch) It takes some getting used to, but it kind of works.

All this to say that there’s something to be said for opera sung in the local language for local audiences. Maybe some of the “big staples” (like my example of Mozart’s Figaro) are harder to warm up to, but less traveled repertoire, and especially light opera or operetta work well. This is why this vintage performance I found on LiberMusica of Auber’s Fra Diavolo I think is worthwhile.

The opera was Auber's greatest success, one of the most popular works of the 19th century and was in the standard repertory in its original French as well as German and Italian versions. It is loosely based on the life of the Itrani guerrilla leader Michele Pezza, active in southern Italy in the period 1800-1806, who went under the name of Fra Diavolo ("Brother Devil").

Expanding and renaming the roles of Beppo and Giacomo (two accomplices of Fra Diavolo) Laurel and Hardy starred as "Stanlio" and "Ollio" in the 1933 feature film Fra Diavolo (sometimes titled as The Devil's Brother or Bogus Bandits) based on Auber's opera. There is not a great deal of singing in the film. Much of the chorus material is intact, and Diavolo has three numbers; however, Zerline gets to sing only the small bit necessary to the plot (singing when she undresses), Stanlio and Ollio only repeat songs heard by others, and no one else sings.

For comparison, a YouTube performance of the original French version can be found here.

The audio quality here is at times suspect, but once you get used to the sound, you'll like this!

Daniel François Esprit AUBER (1782 - 1871)
Fra Diavolo, ou L'hôtellerie de Terracine, opéra comique in three acts (1830)
Original French libretto by Eugène Scribe; Italian translation by Manfredo Maggioni

PRINCIPAL ROLES
Fra Diavolo - Giuseppe Campora,
Zerline - Alda Noni,
Lord Cockburn - Gino Orlandini,
Lady Pamela - Mitì Truccato Pace,
Lorenzo - Nino Adami,
Giacomo - Fernando Corena,
Beppo - Giuseppe Nessi,
Mathéo - Pier Luigi Latinucci,

Coro della RAI di Milano (Roberto Benaglio, chorus master)
Orchestra sinfonica della RAI di Milano
Alfredo Simonetto, conducting
HOPE 237
Recorded : 5/3/1952

Synopsis - http://www.opera-arias.com/auber/fra-diavolo/synopsis/
Libretto - http://musicologia.unipv.it/collezio...f/ghisi097.pdf
LiberMusica URL - https://www.liberliber.it/online/aut...r/fra-diavolo/

Friday, September 22, 2017

Jewish Inspirations

No. 259 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.


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We often talk of musical traditions in the context of national music, or national schools. Think of the great German, French, Italian and Russian traditions. Each of these traditions have a distinct “sound”, and even a distinct aesthetic.

We also sometimes talk of music as either sacred or secular. Again, there are sounds and aesthetics at play when considering music meant to be played in churches or as part of religious rites and ceremonies as opposed to music intended to be played in a concert or a recital.

I’m not quite sure where to place music of Hebraic or Jewish inspiration in those contexts – are we talking about a tradition, or a form of religious music? I remember once somebody discussing how Mendelssohn’s E Minor violin concerto is probably the best example of Jewish music ever composed (Mendelssohn’s grandfather is recognized as an eminent Jewish thinker  yet his immediate family converted from Judaism to of the Reformist Church!)

None of the pieces I selected for this montage of music of Jewish inspiration are in my view religious in nature, but they do share the common distinctive sound, at times “schmaltzy” we associate with Jewish folk music.

All of the works are contemporary (written in the 20th century). Sergei Prokofiev wrote the Overture on Hebrew Themes in 1919, during a trip to the United States. It is written for a relatively uncommon instrumentation of clarinet, string quartet, and piano. Prokofiev received the commission from a Russian sextet called the Zimro Ensemble, whose members played the instruments in this work's instrumentation. They gave Prokofiev a notebook of Jewish folksongs, though the melodies Prokofiev chose have never been traced to any authentic sources.

Ravel composed three songs in Yiddish and Hebrew - Mejerke, main Suhn (From Chants populaires, MR A17, no. 4) and Deux mélodies hébraiques (MR A22), sung here by Pierre Bernac accompanied at the piano by Francis Poulenc who we siometimes forget was an outstanding pianist in his own right.

Bernstein’s elegy Halil and two “Suites Hébraïques” – one by Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick and the other by Ernest Bloch are fine examples of the Jewish sound. Bloch settled in the US where he taught composition in New-York, Cleveland and San Francisco, but his legacy as a composer revolves around many works reflective of his faith –Bloch’s “Jewish Cycle.” refers to a series of compositions in which he was trying to find his musical identity. This was Bloch’s way of expressing his personal conception and interpretation of what he thought Jewish music should be, since the Jewish nation did not exist, in the strictest sense, at the time these biblically-inspired works were written. Schelomo, which concludes the montage, is the fourth work of this cycle.


I think you will love this music too.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Project 366 - Pick Your Poison

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.


Piano… Violin… Again?!?

Today’s chapter serves as a modest attempt at veering away from the same old, same old. After all, in principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—early musical instruments may have been used for ritual, such as a trumpet to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications.

I could point to many Listener Guides in our series that feature instruments other than the piano and the violin: for example, we dedicated entire chapters to the organ and to voice. Peppered here and there I featured the trumpet, the Moog Synthesizer and even the dill piccolo.

To add to our “featured instruments”, we will add today the horn, the oboe and the guitar. The cello and viola are also added to the mix, though they are after all part of the violin family. Ditto for the harpsichord and tangent piano, which are after all ancestors of the modern piano.

Finally, you will find a pair of listener guides that feature the piano and the violin – after all, the repertoire is dominated by pages upon pages dedicated to those two stallworths!

Your Musical Guides

Listener Guide #109 – “Narciso Yepes (1927-1997)”: Considered one of the finest virtuoso classical guitarists of the twentieth century, Spain’s Narciso Yepes is featured as recitalist, soloist and arranger in this montage of guitar favourites. (ITYWLTMT Montage #254 – 28 July 2017)


Listener Guide #110 – “Ye olde keyboards”: Before the piano, there was the harpsichord, the fortepiano and the tangent piano. Listen to concerti featuring these old keyboard instruments. (ITYWLTMT Montage #242 - 10 Mar, 2017)


Listener Guide #111 – “Oboe Concertos”: The oboe produces a beautiful, sweet, haunting sound. When used as solo instruments the sound is sometimes described as a 'pastoral' sound. Different composers approached the oboe differently – as a violin substitute or as its own voice. (ITYWLTMT Montage #256 – 25 Aug 2017)



Listener Guide #112 – “Viola & Orchestra”: The viola has a rich tone, subtly deeper than its first cousin, the violin. Here we have a trio of works for viola soloist and orchestra by Hindemith, Hummel and Berlioz. (ITYWLTMT Montage #240 - 10 Feb 2017)



Listener Guide #113 – “Frédéric Chopin , Piaano sonatas no. 2 & 3”: A vintage vinyl recording from 1966, featuring Tamás Vásáry (Vinyl’s Revenge #9 – Sep 2015)



Listener Guide #114 – “Dimitry Markevitch on MP3.COM”: French-Russian cellist Dimitry Markevitch performs solo suites by J. S. Bach and a pair of cello sonatas by Beethoven. (Once Upon the Internet #31 – 18 Nov 2014)



Listener Guide #115 – “Violin and Cello”: Brahms’ Double concerto pairs the violin and cello. Completing our program are the Tragic Overture and Ravel's sonata for violin and cello. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #53 - 27 Apr, 2012)



Listener Guide #115 – “Mozart and the Horn”: Some horn and piano or orchestra music by Mozart, Czerny and Schumann. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 73 - 28 Sep, 2012 )



Listener Guide #116 – “Wolfgang Schneiderhan (1915 –2002)”: The main work features Schneiderhan in a 1952 performance of the BrahmsViolin Concerto in D, plus a pair of Beethoven sonatas from the 1952 set recorded with Wihelm Kempff. (Once Upon the Internet #48 – 12 July 2016)







Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Vladimir Ashkenazy (*1937)


This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.


Today’s edition of Vinyl’s Revenge contributes to a few ongoing threads – first, it continues a mini-series on the Tuesday Blog exploring Mozart’s Piano Concertos – in fact, it launches a look at an old Time-Life5-LP compilation of hiss “Late” Piano Concertos and, second, it features another pianist who “Moonlights” as a conductor.

In preparing for this post, I realized that Vladimir Ashkenazy turned 80 this past Summer. This Russian born and trained pianist came into prominence in the mid- to late 1950’s, following in the tradition of the great Soviet-era musicians such as Gilels, Richter, Oistrakh and Rostropovich. The latter three managed to develop an international career whilst remaining based out of the USSR, and it appeared that he would do the same; however, Ashkenazy left his homeland in 1963 not for the “artistic reasons” cited by most émigrés but for a woman—a stately blonde from Iceland named Thorunn Johannsdottir, who studied piano at the Moscow Conservatoire. To marry Ashkenazy, Johannsdottir was forced to give up her Icelandic citizenship and declare that she wanted to live in the USSR.

In his memoirs, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recollects that on a visit to London Ashkenazy refused to go back to the Soviet Union. Khrushchev mentions that Ashkenazy then went to the Soviet Embassy in London and asked what to do, who in turn referred the matter to Moscow. Khrushchev claims to have been of the opinion that to require Ashkenazy to return to the USSR would have made him an 'Anti-Soviet'.

In 1963 Ashkenazy decided to leave the USSR permanently, establishing residence in London where his wife's parents lived. The couple moved to Iceland in 1968 where, in 1972, Ashkenazy became a citizen. Later the family moved to Lucerne, Switzerland.

Ashkenazy has recorded a wide range of piano repertoire, solo, chamber and concerti. His discography is varied and in many cases authoritative – ChopinBeethoven, Mozart and the late-Romantic Russians (notably Rachmaninov and Prokofiev). Midway through his pianistic career, Ashkenazy branched into conducting. One of his earliest conducting endeavours was a solid complete Mozart piano concerto cycle (conducting from the keyboard with the Philharmonia Orchestra). Our first selection in today’s playlist is from that cycle, re-issued in the Time-Life collection I referred to up front.

Today, he performs almost exclusively as a conductor, with long-standing associations with the Royal Philharmonic, NHK and Sydney Symphonies. The complete album I retained to complete today’s playlist is an early digital recording with the English Chamber Orchestra.

Happy Listening!


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no.21 in C Major, K.467 ('Elvira Madigan')
Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano & conducting
Label: Time Life Records ‎– STL M01 (Disk 2, Side 2)
Format: 5 × Vinyl, LP, Compilation
Issued in 1973


Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried Idyll, for small orchestra in E Major, WWV 103

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Verklärte Nacht for string orchestra (1917; arr. from String Sextet, Op.4)
English Chamber Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conducting
Label: Decca ‎– 410 111-1
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album (DDA)
Issued in 1984

YouTube playlist - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...6Npko31_fnk65J